(The Center Square) – The Illinois Republican Party is appealing a federal judge’s ruling in a case challenging the governor’s limits on the size of gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month the Illinois Republican Party, the Schaumburg Township Republican Organization and the Northwest Side GOP filed a lawsuit claiming their rights were infringed by the governor’s gathering limits while he took part in political protests alongside scores of people.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Judge Sara Ellis on Thursday ruled against the GOP groups.
“Plaintiffs allege that by exempting the free exercise of religion from the general gathering limit, the Governor has created an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech,” Ellis wrote. ”Plaintiffs also claim that by not enforcing the Order against protestors following the death of George Floyd, the Governor has created another exception.”
She wrote, “Granting Plaintiffs the relief they seek would pose serious risks to public health.”
“The number of COVID-19 infections continues to rise across the United States, which has led some states to recently impose greater restrictions on gatherings and activities,” Ellis wrote.
“[Thursday’s] order is disappointing but we are confident in our argument in favor of political parties’ right to equal treatment to exercise their First Amendment rights. We are immediately appealing the decision,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, representing Pritzker in the case, argued the regulations were on conduct, not on speech and that doesn’t violate the First Amendment. As to the claim the governor was picking which speech is more favorable, Raoul said the governor took part in demonstrations against police brutality in his “personal capacity.”
Before Thursday’s ruling, Liberty Justice Center Attorney Daniel Suhr said the record showed the governor was giving preference to one set of speech over another by taking part in the rallies.
“The fact that a Black Lives Matter rally is no different scientifically or constitutionally from a Republican rally,” Suhr said. “The only difference is the content of the speeches being given. There’s no scientific or medical basis for treating the two differently and that’s really the heart of our case.”
Suhr said there was a similar case in New York against that state’s governor and mayor. The court, in that case, ruled against the government’s orders, he said, partly because of their involvement in certain protests.
“When the governor extends his official sanction to these protests it shows preferential treatment to one set of speakers and that’s what the First Amendment forbids,” Suhr said.
Suhr also noted the governor’s official daily schedule announced his involvement in rallies. The state’s official media channels also carried those appearances.
Suhr said the GOP should get equal treatment.
It’s unclear when the case will be heard in an appellate court.